'Save the Deli' author talks Chicago's delis

November 23, 2009 9:01:50 AM PST
Fans of traditional Jewish delis have often wondered why there are so few good ones in Chicago.The author of a new book on the subject recently stopped in Chicago and said one of the reasons has to do with population shifts.

A fan of good delis, ABC7's Hungry Hound has always wondered, why can't Chicago support places like the Second Avenue Deli and Katz's in New York, or produce smoked meat like the heavenly sandwiches at Schwartz's in Montreal?

Part of the reason -- according to a new book -- is that Chicago's Jewish population has moved to the suburbs.

The Canadian-born author has spent the past three years eating carbs and protein laced with garlic and salt, compiling his new book, 'Save the Deli.' Since he mentions the 67-year-old Manny's in the Chicago section of the book, the Hungry Hound took him to lunch to get his take on a few deli staples.

"No one has the cafeteria system. Which is probably the most dangerous thing about Manny's, because you're just like 'oh that looks good, that looks good, that looks good.' I mean you can literally inspect the wares, like, 'you know the kasha is looking good today, the kreplachs looking great, you know I think I'm going have a potato knish.' I really love these, I call 'em the baseball knishes, which is like the potato knish with the meat in the middle, and not a lot of places do that," said Sax.

Sax says matzo balls are like snowflakes: no two are alike. But in Chicago, he's noticed a rarity, the mishmosh soup: not just matzo balls, but also egg noodles and kreplach. It is certainly a meal-in-a-bowl. He also finds a hidden gem at Manny's: the kishke.

"I mean it's basically, schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), matzo meal and other sorts of stuffings, in a beef casing -- in a beef intestine, and people moved away from that. It was too difficult, too expensive, people didn't like the idea of 'ew, beef casing,' and so most places make this sort of fake stuff with vegetable oil and this collagen casing. It's like really poor stuffing, but this is the real deal," Sax said.

While pastrami may be preferred on the East Coast and in cities like Montreal,

"Here in the Midwest, people are corned beef eaters. Right there, they have both parts of the brisket. On top, you can see sort of a fattier cut, that's like the top of the deckle, and the bottom is lean. You want a bit of a mix, right?" said Sax.

Sax says he wrote the book, in part, to discover the stories behind the delis and to learn why they're disappearing.

"The book is really about the Jewish delicatessen business in its entirety. I mean, the history of it, its sort of rise and fall and the reasons behind that, and then why different communities evolved in different ways. If people don't really settle and keep their roots in one area for very long, it's hard for that community to coalesce, and institutions like Jewish delis, they're only open a short period of time before their clientele moves on to the 'burbs, right?" said Sax.

Save The Deli is in bookstores now.

Incidentally, Sax also discusses Kaufman's in Skokie, Max and Benny's in Northbrook and Eleven City Diner in the South Loop.

'Save the Deli'
by David Sax
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Manny's
1141 S. Jefferson St.
312-939-2855
www.mannysdeli.com

Eleven City Diner
1112 S. Wabash Ave.
312-212-1112
www.elevencitydiner.com

Kaufman's Bagel & Deli
4905 W. Dempster Ave., Skokie
847-677-6190
www.kaufmansdeli.com

Max & Benny's
461 Waukegan Rd., Northhbrook
847-272-9490
www.maxandbennys.com


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